Last week, northern delegates to the 2014 National Conference called on President Muhammadu Buhari not to implement the conference’s report, even though the president himself has never shown any interest in doing so. Shola Oyeyipo wonders if the report still stands any chance of seeing the light of day
“The conference therefore commenced with the region that has the largest land mass and population grossly under-represented and brazenly treated unfairly. This engendered a deep sense of apprehension and justifiable suspicion. Above all, the action of that government (former president Goodluck Jonathan’s government) raised the serious issues about the credibility in the outcome of the conference conclusions” – That was the view of some northern delegates to the 2014 national conference when they urged President Muhammadu Buhari to jettison the resolution of that conference last week in Abuja.
No doubt, the above proposition is contentious, more so because not only has the agitation for a sovereign national conference to give birth to a truly federal nation persisted, some who consider the Jonathan conference as the best so far have been clamouring for the implementation of the report.
However, the northern opponents of the national conference are not without well marshaled argument to drive home their point.
Former Minister of Power and Steel during the late General Sani Abacha era, Alhaji Bashiru Dalhatu who presented a keynote address at the gathering stated the position of the conference antagonists when he noted that “The 2014 National Conference had 492 members and the north, which constitutes about 70 percent of the country’s landmass, and 55 percent of its population was allocated 189 delegates, while the South with only 30 percent of the landmass, and 45 percent of its population was given an incredible 305 delegates.”
So, basically, the grouse is that the north was not given fair representation in the conference with the 189 delegates allotted to it, despite its landmass of 70 percent and 55 percent of the country’s population.
Coming three years after the conference, Dalhatu who spoke on behalf of his counterparts on the platform of the Northern Delegates Forum (NDF) stated unequivocally that “This went against sensible demographics, law, and practice, which could have hardly been done in good faith. Certainly, it was designed to put in particular our delegates, and the north in general at a disadvantage. Therefore, we were not happy with the report, and have come out with this second report and communiqué.”
While it is not incorrect to note that historical facts point to it that the north has been the only proponent of the status quo in an haphazard national union, recent facts also suggest that the north is not in full support of the 2014 national conference because at the conclusion of the conference in 2014, some delegates from there already dissociated themselves from the ‘new draft constitution’ submitted to all delegates by the leadership of the conference.
They claimed they were neither privy to, nor were they accessories to the emergence of the controversial draft constitution contained in the proposed amendment titled: ‘A bill for an act to further alter the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) with the first, second and third alteration, and for related matters 2014′.
Aside the fact that other issues like how to curtail the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen across the country and other sundry matters were discussed at the event, it would seem that NDF members needed not belabour themselves to advise Buhari who would easily pass as their compatriot in the quest to throw the conference report into the trash can because he never hide his disdain for the conference report and recommendations.
Though some have said the last national conference was the boldest step in recent times in addressing the country’s structural defects and forging a nation, after initially ignoring the report, when Buhari eventually opened up on it, he said: “I advised against the issue of national conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9billion to organise that meeting (national conference), and some (members) were complaining that they hadn’t even been paid. I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that what the National Assembly could have handled was handed to the conference, while the more important job of keeping our children in schools was abandoned. That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives.”
What would however underscore the importance other Nigerians attached to the conference, irrespective of Buhari and his northern counterparts unfavourable disposition to it, was the immediate response to the president’s venomous comment by a cross section of well-meaning Nigerians.
Prominent Nigerians like General Zamani Lekwot (rtd) said to the president that “implementing the report is a solution to the nation’s problems.” Dr. Patricia Ogbonnaya said “It is being narrow-minded and unpatriotic because the president cannot claim that the report is entirely useless to the development of our country Nigeria.” Former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Aniete Okon, former presidential candidate of the National Transformation Party (NTP), Deacon John Dara, former Minister of Women Affairs, Iyom Josephine Anenih and national spokesperson of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, all reacted to the president’s comment and urged him to reconsider his stance on the matter.
Not surprisingly, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, also reiterated the president’s position and dismissed the national conference as ‘job for the boys’, but he also got vituperative criticisms from prominent delegates to the conference.
The widespread opinion among Nigerians has been that the country is suffering from structural defects which is considered as responsible for some negative tendencies such as violent agitations for self determination, militancy and terrorism. The suggestion therefore is that even if not all the recommendations of the conference are considered, there are some germane ones urgently needed to bring about unity.
The immediate reaction from the National Publicity Secretary of pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere and member of the 2014 national conference, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, to the recent position of the NDF opposing the restructuring of the country, is very instructive.
He did not only tag it as “self-serving and myopic”, he warned that it is impossible to sustain Nigeria the way it is much longer without consequences.
“They are self-serving opportunists. We all together at the 2014 national conference took unanimous decisions on over 300 resolutions and did not vote on any issue. The rules say that we have to have two thirds on any issue. We agreed on all those issues based on consensus. Now because of their short sightedness to think, but because they are in charge-they got power back-all that is wrong with Nigeria should be over looked. This shows the opportunism in them,” Odumakin said.
According to him, at the 2014 National Conference, the north raised the issue of the south having more delegates than them but when we took account of the delegates, it was discovered that northerners were more at the gathering which took place in Abuja.
“What they have done is to preempt us by holding their own conference yesterday. Now this was what happened in 2000. Obasanjo called a meeting of all the leaders of the six geo-political zones in Abuja where Senator Adesanya led the South-west delegates and Professor Ben Nwabueze led the South-east delegates. Obasanjo asked for what should be done to preserve the future of Nigeria; Nwabueze was the first to speak and he spoke about the need to restructure Nigeria while Adesanya endorsed everything he said as the leaders of the South-south and the Middle Belt also endorsed it, but only the leaders the group of people who held a conference yesterday got up and said ‘oh we didn’t know this was what we were coming here to discuss’. We will go back home and come back, but till today, they have not come back.
“To think that Nigeria may be kept as it is for long is clear deception and delusional. If they don’t allow us to restructure Nigeria with what would destroy all of us staring us in the face is short sighted, myopic and a clear lack of understanding of where Nigeria is and what has happened to other nations that have refused to do what is needed.
“Many of those countries have disappeared from the map of the world. So let them continue to do what they are doing, and we will continue to insist that we must sit down and make this country a proper one by the structure unit, and by God’s grace, we shall gather on May 2 in Abuja,” he said.
Some Important Recommendations of 2014 National Conference
Though there were dissenting voices against the conference but at the end of it all, some far-reaching recommendations were made. Some of them are listed below.
Creation of 18 New States
The 2014 national conference: recommended three states per geo-political zone and among them are Apa, Edu, Kainji, Katagum, Savannah, Amana, Gurara, Ghari, Etiti, Aba, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Orashi, Ogoja, Ijebu and New Oyo. The conference also recommended one new state for the South-east to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North-west which has seven. It also recommended that states willing to merge can also do so based on certain conditions.
Resource Control/Derivation Principle/Fiscal Federalism
Agreeing that assigning percentage for the increase in derivation principle, and setting up Special Intervention Funds to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development, require some technical details and consideration, the conference recommended that government should set up a technical committee to determine the appropriate percentage on the three issues and advise government accordingly.
At this point, it is important to underscore the fact that issues relating to how resources domiciled in each state, particularly in the Niger Delta region where Nigerian oil wealth is derived, have been the real aspect of argument as regards the present structure. Some of the states would prefer full resource control as against the current 13 per cent derivation.
The 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) had recommended an increase in the level of derivation from 13 to 17 per cent in the interim pending the report of the expert commission and that massive and urgent programme of development of infrastructure and human resources of the Niger Delta should be embarked upon by the federal government.
Public Finance/Revenue Allocation
The 2014 conference noted that the sharing of the funds to the federation account among the three tiers of government should be done in the manner that the federal government gets 42.5 per cent, state governments (35 per cent) and local governments 22.5 per cent.
Forms of Government
It was recommended that the country adopts a modified presidential system, which would be a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. Where such recommendation sees the light of the day, the president would be picking the vice president from the legislature.
The national conference recommended bi-cameral legislature, where all elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government would serve on part-time basis
It was also agreed upon that the presidential power should rotate between the north and the south and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.
Going by the recommendation of the conference, local government will cease to be the third tier of government. The federal and states would remain the only tiers of government. States government would however have the power to create as many local governments as they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped and in its place the establishment of a State RMAFC with representatives of LG and a chairman nominated by the governor. The constitution should fix the tenure for local government councils at three years. Conference also recommended the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission, SIECs.
The immunity clause would be removed if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy.
It was recommended that every Nigerian who meets the specified condition in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections as an independent candidate without requiring the platform of any political party.
In the 2014 national conference the creation of the office of the Accountant General (Director-General) of the Federation as a distinct and separate office from the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government was recommended. The office of the Accountant General of the Federation shall oversee the accruals of revenue into and disbursement from the Federation Account as and when due; and shall administer these funds as required by the Constitution, while the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government shall oversee the accounts of the Federal Government.
2014: A special court to handle corruption cases should be established in the light of undue prolongation in the trials and prosecution of corruption cases in the regular courts. A non-conviction-based asset forfeiture law should be enacted with broad provisions to deal with all issues of proceeds of crimes by the anti-graft agencies and the courts.
Land Tenure Act
According to the conference, the Land Tenure Act should remain in the constitution but it would be amended to take care of those concerns, particularly on compensation in Section 29 (4) of the Act to read “land owners should determine the price and value of their land based on open market value.”
The old national anthem was to be reintroduced
The conference recommended that there will be no government sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands. It also resolved that churches and mosques should begin to pay tax to government.
An Unending Clamour for The Implementation
The argument by the North and even Buhari runs contrary to the sustained quest for the implementation of the conference report by all other geopolitical zones. In fact, eminent Nigerians, including a former running mate to the president, Pastor Tunde Bakare have continued to implore the Nigerian leader not to abandon the recommendations of the 2014 national conference for any reason.
Bakare, in stressing the need for Buhari to implement the recommendations of the 2014 national conference, has persistently noted that its outcome is in tandem with the All Progressives Congress (APC) manifesto. In a state of the nation address in his church entitled: ‘Road map to successful change,’ Bakare said though APC opted not to participate in the exercise, the report was done by Nigerians.
“Let it be known that in spite of the rejection of our pre-election call for a transition period, Nigeria is now a nation in transition. This transition period will predictably be followed by a revolution which will, in turn, be followed by a reformation that will eventually usher in the desired transformation of our nation. A key outcome of this process will be the emergence of a true peoples’ constitution that will facilitate national integration and provide a suitable governmental framework for the Nigeria of our dreams – a truly federal state with such powers vested exclusively on the federal government as are necessary to firmly and prosperously knit together the federating units upon which residual powers shall be vested,” he said.
The renowned cleric said further: “That promise of true federalism is contained in Article 14 of the Nigerian Charter for National Reconciliation and Integration, which was unanimously adopted and signed by the delegates to the 2014 national conference, including myself, as the basis of our union. I appeal to President Buhari not to ignore the report of the 2014 national conference! God went ahead of you to provide a navigational map with which you can begin to steer the ship of state to a safe destination. The APC may have refused to participate in the 2014 national conference, but the report of that conference is completely in tandem with the promise of the APC manifesto.”
During the 17th convention of the Igbo Youths Movement (IYM) held in Enugu last year January, the same position was endorsed by former Vice-President, Alex Ekwueme; former governor of old Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife; former National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo; former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana; former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi; renowned author, Arthur Nwankwo; Niger Delta activist, Ms Annkio Briggs and others. They all enjoined Buhari to restructure Nigeria in line with the principles of true federalism and the option of the implementing the 2014 constitution conference was also on the table.
Addressing the theme: ‘Still in Search of True Federalism’, all the speakers at the event advised Buhari to implement the 2014 national conference report as a prelude to restructuring the country. They asserted that the current spate of sectional protests and demand for separation by various groups as well as other socio-economic crises could be reduced if the conference report is implemented.
Ekwueme, a proponent of the current six geopolitical zones structure, which now takes care of minorities in the south and the north, has always maintained that Nigeria agreed with the colonial masters to have a regional government where each has a constitution, annexed to the Republican constitution of 1963.
“There is need for us to return to the basics from what we inherited from our founding fathers,” and to him, that would be the Republican Constitution which stipulated 50 per cent revenue sharing formula for the regions, 30 per cent to a pool from where it could be shared and 20 per cent for the centre.
A Kaduna based legal practitioner and member, 2014 national conference, Barrister John Achimugu, has advocated that a committee be set up by Buhari to take a critical look at the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference with a view to implement them for the progress of the country.
“It was the first time that people with diverse opinions came together for the purpose of discussing national problems and finding solutions there to. Most of the members came to the conference with nationalistic interest and tremendous energy to find a way to advance and develop full potentials as a country to be reckoned with globally,” he said.
While Bakare’s advice would pass as a candid suggestion from a sincere friend, agitations among other Nigerians are indeed pointers to the importance of the topic in the scheme of things in the country. And as most of his predecessors, the president can’t deny the unending agitation among Nigerians that the best legacy he could give the country is to allow a political restructuring of the country whereas the implementation of the report is one important step in that direction. The proposal is that Nigeria must restructure to correct the glaring mistakes in its federal system.